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Welcome to #fivewordfridays

a series of vocabulary-based prompts
white text that reads #fivewordfridays on a bright orange background

by Ashley Strosnider

Tackled the excercise below? Come up with something brilliant or hilarious? Tweet us a favorite line or phrase @theSchooner!

Good writing strives toward many things—often it’s momentum, stakes, and surprise. Ideally, when you’re writing carefully (or at the very least, when you’re revising!), you’re aware of the language of your work, instead of only the content of the idea or the narrative thrust, and you’re making careful, interesting, and economical selections to keep a poem or a story moving, and to keep a reader moving along with it. You brilliant writer, you, of course you choose your words wisely.

But what would happen if we picked them for you, haphazardly and at random? Welcome to #fivewordfridays, a series in which we’ll share quick, vocabulary-based writing prompts on Twitter on Fridays. We give you two nouns, two verbs, and one adjective, and you take it from there.

These prompts are meant to encourage you to incorporate specific words into your work, to think about how word choice can shape and stretch nearly any aspect of a piece of writing, from the sound and the rhythm to the tone, and it can even go so far as to alter the narrative or metaphorical direction you thought a piece was heading.

There are at least two ways to approach the exercise, though we welcome you—nay, we dare you!—to find more.

First approach: Generative prompt

Take these five words as a jumping-off point. Consider them together, and consider what they’re telling you and what you could use them to tell someone else. Go from there. Beginning is enough.

  • Level-two challenge: Some combinations may be obvious. Try to see connections or hear phrasings that wouldn’t occur to someone else. A single word can carry its own tone and connotations, but it’s the friction that comes from rubbing them together that truly delights. Do it distinctively.

Second approach: Revision tactic

Find a poem or a paragraph or a piece of flash fiction you’ve been working on that’s just not quite there yet, and revise it to make sure all five words appear in the new version.

  • Level-two challenge: Pick a piece you feel absolutely certain is a bad fit for this exercise and these words. The more horrified you feel about adding in V, W, X, Y, and Z, the better. Will your poem or story be better for it? No way to know, but you’ll have made your work weirder—at least temporarily—and even if these aren’t the exact five words you needed, this exercise may show you that your piece is a little more malleable than you thought, which is often just what you need to break it out of its rut.

Everyone likes freebies. So we’ll give you five. You’ll likely need to add some words of your own, some connective tissue to bridge these ideas, since you can’t get a whole poem or story out of five words alone (usually? Or prove us wrong!), but these should still be enough to play with. Ready?


2 nouns: snakepit, pizza
2 verbs: corral, expunge
1 adjective: luminous 


Today’s words are brought to you by our creative nonfiction editor, Ilana Masad, author of the novel All My Mother’s Lovers (Dutton, forthcoming May 2020) and many other weird and wonderful things.